The 21st Century Shoegaze Revival

At the end of the 20th century, shoegaze seemed over, left behind. Crushed in terms of public attention by grunge and alternative-as-such in the US and by what became Britpop in the UK, most of the original first wave UK groups had broken up for one reason or another, while the inadvertent flagbearers, My Bloody Valentine, were in deep hibernation as its members engaged in other projects. There were pockets of continuing interest scattered worldwide, with the American-based Clairecords label essentially becoming a standard bearer for the general approach while the Italian fanzine Losing Today held a particular pride of place in print terms, but the sound’s influence, however broadly defined, was more felt secondarily – any number of 90s psych rock and post-rock acts were clearly inspired at least in part by the approach, while MBV had vocal cheerleaders ranging from Bob Mould, specifically via his work in Sugar, to the Smashing Pumpkins, to Daft Punk. Beyond that, though, shoegaze was seen as insular, unpopular and at best stuck in a rut.

By the time the 21st century was two decades in, however, that situation had changed radically. While never truly becoming a world conquering sound in terms of pop chart success, shoegaze had become a real genre of sorts, or at the very least a standard term that described a generally understood sonic approach which many different artists embraced,  a consistent and self-perpetuating idea. Assisted by the deepening impact of the Internet and social media – and quite possibly helped by the style’s favoring of often blurred or never fully comprehensible vocals – wider transnational connections were formed, while numerous reissues and often subsequent reunions (not to mention MBV’s reactivation) helped bring some of the style’s founders back into the mix. New labels heavily dedicated to the approach emerged, such as the UK’s Sonic Cathedral and Club AC30, both of which grew out of increasingly popular club nights. Meanwhile, more technically-minded efforts like Death By Audio, the guitar pedal company of A Place To Bury Strangers’s lead figure Oliver Ackermann, further carved out creative spaces of their own. The crossover between various forms of heavy metal and shoegaze was especially prolific, but this sampling of albums in the wider general style, including a number showing how the continuing transformative impact of electronic approaches, gives a good sense of shoegaze’s resilience.

Ned Raggett

Serena-Maneesh

Serena-Maneesh
Serena-Maneesh cover

Serena-Maneesh’s 2005 self-titled debut was a smash hit in the band’s home country of Norway and a major critical rave elsewhere, the central figure of Emil Nikolaisen professing himself openly obsessed with all kinds of protopunk, art-rock and psych noise and aiming to make a grand fusion of it all. In many ways it was a shoegaze landmark of the 2000s as well, thanks to the slippery blend of vocals and guitar noise favored throughout, clearly evident on singles like “Drain Cosmetics” and “Sapphire Eyes” as well as deeper cuts like the choppy kick of “Selina’s Melodie Fountain.”

Eidôlon

Venera 4
Eidôlon cover

After a series of strong singles and EPs, the French band Venera 4 brought a buzzing, sharp energy to their full debut, 2015’s Eidôlon. Very much embracing the howling, fierce edge of shoegaze, the quartet melded that with motorik drive and a hint of classic pop melodies, with Morgane Caux’s and Annabelle Chapalain’s sometimes dreamy, sometimes quietly forceful vocals a killer further touch. “Pygmalion” starts the album off explosively, while the quality level maintains, from the chugging punch of “Red Blooms” to the thrilling kick of “Aimer Ann.”

A Strangely Isolated Place

Ulrich Schnauss
A Strangely Isolated Place cover

Schnauss’s slow building fusion of his many younger musical interests – Tangerine Dream-derived ambience, Robin Guthrie’s work in the Cocteau Twins and the impact of My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze that followed – reached an early point of apotheosis with his second album under his own name. With Judith Beck on vocals and Paul Davis on guitar, 2003’s A Strangely Isolated Place became a foundational electrogaze release, blending blissout with soaring synths, shuffling and pulsing beats and a sense of aiming towards the infinite.

Wait to Pleasure

No Joy
Wait to Pleasure cover

Around thirty-five minutes long, 2013’s Wait To Pleasure concentrated powering through a series of confident as hell shoegaze/noise songs; with producer Jorge Elbrecht credited by No Joy for further building out their sound, the result was a commanding blast, as could be heard in how the vocals swoop and rise over the intensifying roar of the opening “E.” Singles “Hare Tarot Noise” and “Lunar Phobia” allowed for a just calmer enough edge for a way in for new listeners, while the shimmering noise of “Slug Night” and rampage of “Lizard Kids” are only two of the further highlights.

Sunkissed

Guitar
Sunkissed cover

Michael Lückner’s first release under the moniker Guitar – officially one of the harder names to search for online in the 21st century – was a prime early example of what became known as electrogaze, where the sonic overload of shoegaze could lend itself to computer-derived treatments and production. 2002’s Sunkissed aims for a mostly easygoing lope and blissing out via layered waves of feedback and beats, evident from the start with the title track, with guests Ayako Akashiba and Regina Janssen from Donna Regina trading lead vocal duties throughout.

Cathedral Classics Volume One

Various Artists
Cathedral Classics Volume One cover

Collecting tracks from the first run of seven inch singles that the Sonic Cathedral label released, 2009’s Cathedral Classics Volume One compilation served as an excellent full-length marker that shoegaze and similar approaches were fully alive and well in a younger generation of bands. A couple of veterans appear in the form of Ride’s Mark Gardener and Dean and Britta among others, but the presence of School of Seven Bells (in the form of a Robin Guthrie remix), Maps, Japancakes, Daniel Land and the Modern Painters and M83 all showed where the sound was going next.

Epithalamia

Various Artists
Epithalamia cover

Released on Clairecords in 2000, Epithalamia (referring to Italian poems written for brides) served as a useful small survey of various shoegaze and indie-pop acts worldwide at the turn of the millennium, as groups continued to explore the sonic space. Established shoegazers appear – Scott Cortez turns up, both with Lovesliescrushing and his separate Astrobrite project, as does the Ecstasy of St. Theresa – but then-newer groups such as Isobella and Freezing Butterfly, mixed in with various other acts, help to show where the flame was still burning.

Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO

The Besnard Lakes
Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO cover

On their fourth album, the Besnard Lakes built on the considerable impact of The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night; crediting an improved internal band dynamic, on Until In Excess the group’s serenely beautiful approach to deep Slowdive-style washes of sound and post-rock reach work wonders. There’s a more conventional rock and roll feeling to songs like “People Of the Sticks” and the Beach Boys-harmonizing “The Specter,” while on “And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold” and the heavy guitar reverb of “Colour Yr Lights In” it’s all about a full zoning out.

Fantasy Country

Flyying Colours
Fantasy Country cover

On their second album, 2021’s Fantasy Country, Australia’s Flyying Colours made a great case for being one of the 21st century’s best shoegaze acts, having some real wired energy and a strong sense of dynamic arrangements at work to go along with easy blended harmonies and guitar overload. The thrilling “Big Mess” is a fantastic anthem in its own right, with cuts like “Its Real” and “This One” not being far behind, while the happily straightforward Neu!-into-Stereolab high speed motorik tribute “White Knuckles” lives up to its name in full.

Everything Else Matters

Pinkshinyultrablast
Everything Else Matters cover

Pinkshinyultrablast’s first full length album, 2015’s Everything Else Mattered, rapidly raised their profile and reputation in the worldwide shoegaze scene, thanks to the group’s skill at equally drawing on both the rock and roll side of the style and the shimmering textures which various electrogaze acts had brought further to the fore. “Wish We Were”’s split between murmuring flow and cascading feedback rampage captures the two sides very well, while the sparkling drive of “Umi” and the full-on crunch of “Metamorphosis” are two further highlights.

Ashes Grammar

A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Ashes Grammar cover

After a series of accidents and lineup changes right when A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s second album sessions were due, little surprise if there was some trepidation about the potential results. Nothing to worry about, it turned out: 2009’s Ashes Grammar was a fine example of 21st century indie rock with an obsessively-created-in-studio focus, with everything from dreamy interstitial moments between songs to how the shoegaze-inspired flow of songs like “Close Chorus,” “Canalfish” and “Ashes Maths” add engaging, unusual vocal and instrumental touches.

Departure Songs

Hammock
Departure Songs cover

With their fifth album, 2012’s monumental 2 CD effort Departure Songs, the building promise of Hammock hit a remarkable new level, their elegantly earnest shoegaze-into-postrock approach producing a masterpiece of sweeping, thoroughly arranged and orchestrated music. The group’s ear for sequencing, letting the songs feel like one long flowing piece with lulls and crescendos arriving right when they need to, is in full flight, while melodramatic titles like “(Tonight) We Burn Like Stars That Never Die” and “(Let’s Kiss) While The Stars Are All Falling Down” justify their bombast.

A Place to Bury Strangers

A Place to Bury Strangers
A Place to Bury Strangers cover

Following some notoriously explosive performances, A Place To Bury Strangers made the leap to full-length status with a self-titled 2007 collection, drawing together tracks from various earlier EPs to make a satisfyingly monster-sounding debut. With Oliver Ackermann able to build not only on that work but his earlier time in Skywave, A Place to Bury Strangers was shoegaze as aggressive sonic howl matched with cool vocal reserve, reaching back to early Jesus and Mary Chain as much as late 80s MBV on songs like “To Fix The Gash In Your Head” and “Breathe.”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart cover

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s self-titled debut in 2009 couldn’t be any more of a tribute to the late 80s UK indie scene following the impact of the Jesus and Mary Chain and the reinvention of My Bloody Valentine – and that is precisely why it works, as the opening feedback and fuzzy chime of the album starter “Contender” demonstrates. At ten songs in a little over half an hour it’s an engaging quick sonic blast of a listen, simultaneously huge and engagingly intimate, and the rollicking kick of songs like “Come Saturday” and “Stay Alive” are delights.

Chambers

Lorelle Meets The Obsolete
Chambers cover

Starting with a great, murky in all the best ways garage/shoegaze stomp in the form of “What’s Holding You?,” Mexico’s Lorelle Meets the Obsolete projects pure charisma and atmosphere from the get-go on their third album, 2014’s Chambers. Lorena Quintanalla still has the voice-in-heavy-echo vibes down as much as she and bandmate Alberto Gonzalez do the mix of psychedelic trippiness and feedback musically, while more signs of their future musical range are evident on songs like the woozy “Dead Leaves” and the eerie start of “Grieving.”

In Praise of More

Engineers
In Praise of More cover

Following their Three Fact Fader album, Engineers went through a lineup split when the original rhythm section stepped aside, replaced in part by bassist Daniel Land and, as part of his work with numerous other acts with shoegaze tendencies, Ulrich Schnauss on keyboards. 2010’s In Praise of More was a strong third full-length, the agreeably flowing haze of the band’s earlier work given a bit more space in the mix while capturing a strong sense of tension and mood on songs like “Subtober.” Even something as simple as the twisty vocal hooks on the chorus of “Press Rewind” are delights.

Citrus

Asobi Seksu
Citrus cover

Asobi Seksu’s second album was their breakthrough moment, one of a variety of examples in the mid-2000s of how a shoegaze-friendly aesthetic had taken firmer root among American independent and underground bands in particular. The core duo of Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna, working with a different rhythm section from their debut, were just as adept with the spirit of earlier indie-pop as well, and the sweetly engaging singalong gloss evident on songs like “Strawberries,” “Red Sea” and “Strings” fits just as well as the exultant feedback rush.

Disconnect from Desire

School of Seven Bells
Disconnect from Desire cover

The second School of Seven Bells album was the last to feature both Deheza sisters as Claudia left the group after an initial tour for it, but 2010’s Disconnect From Desire was a remarkable way to showcase their musical partnership with Benjamin Curtis, peeling off one astonishing song after another. The sleek shoegaze-meets-New Order feeling of Alpinisms hit new heights on songs like “Windstorm” and “Bye Bye Bye” – “Joviann” itself practically quotes Chapterhouse’s “Breather” – while “I L U” became their standard of heartbreak and memory.

Common Era

Belong
Common Era cover

Belong’s follow-up full length to October Language, 2011’s Common Era, matched their debut for strong performance and atmosphere, putting together the raucousness of shoegaze, often at its most intense, with drone-rock and post-punk vibes in equal measure. The result, as the opening “Come See” shows with its deep roiling bass and screeching echoed feedback, is compelling. There’s also a hint of a slinky pop vibe at points, as can be heard in songs like “Perfect Life,” while the drifting haunted ambient flow of “Keep Still” is a striking contrast.

Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts

M83
Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts cover

That M83 would follow up their earnest if not truly unique debut with what turned out to be a cornerstone of 21st century shoegaze, post-rock and popular electronic music all at once probably wasn’t on anyone’s list of predictions, yet 2003’s Dead Cities turned out to be just that both at home and across the world. “Run Into Flowers” became the group’s earliest standard, as perfect a capturing of the ‘soundtrack without a film’ feeling as any, but the air of energy suffused with melancholy heard there carried throughout the album exquisitely.